Habits: a very brief dip into resources, ideas and (possible) next steps

At the start of Lent, whether or not that’s a religious or cultural event for you, it’s not a bad time to think about our habits: established, faltering, new and lapsed. 

This blog is a brief exploration of resources and ideas out there. Future blogs will delve deeper.  So whatever your approach to habits (Email culling: little & often; daily budget updates; Friday = yoga day?) join us for this short meander. 

Healthy appetite

Early on a Friday there’s one mention of habits per second on Twitter. Or if LinkedIn is more your  poison, posts range from money to critical thinking, via sales tips and the power of prayer, to sleep and weight loss.

Articles on habit formation appear in titles from the Journal of Neuroscience to Harvard Business Review, The Lancet to Prospect Magazine. From annoying to endearing, bad to irksome, mainstream media weigh  in on habit coverage too.

So our appetite to understand more about anchoring the behaviour that helps us, and batting away those habits that trip us up, is nothing but voracious.

Enter the gurus

That’s less facetious than it first seems. Those who have delved deeply into helpful habits: why wouldn’t we want to listen and, who knows, act on a suggestion or three?

Book titles include:

  • James Clear: Atomic Habits —  Chapter 6: Motivation is Overrated: Environment Often Matters More
  • Cathy Sexton: The Productivity Habit — “Honestly assessing your willingness to embrace new habits and behaviors is one of the first steps to making changes” (week 1, day 2)
  • Charles Duhigg: The Power of Habit — “Just the right mix of intellectual seriousness [and] practical advice” The Economist

Synonyms: mannerism, custom, way, practice
Synonyms: addiction, weakness, obsession, dependence
(Source: collinsdictionary.com)

While developing this website, I’ve jumped on the habits bandwagon too. For example:

  1. A recent addition – #BMBeyondtheScreens “Reconciling productive, enjoyable work with the time to savour our leisure (and run our lives)… a fine challenge.”
  2. Among my blogs – Books wish list (take 10 minutes): AI, trees, furious hearts, Rumpole’s poetry
  3. Training page – “…become more confident with social media and get into regular blogging habits


Listen up: questions

I’d like to listen more than I talk – now there’s a habits challenge. (Listening, incidentally, is the probable theme of a blog I’ll write with a client later in the year.)

So for the sake of  argument, I’m a reporter again. Here are a few questions I might ask during an interview about habits:

>What habits do you admire in others, and why?

>Tracking progress with a new habit: what’s your approach?

>What habits are the hardest to crack? Who and what can help you?

Plenty of people have asked, and continue to ask, questions about habits.

Back in 2013, for instance, Benjamin Gardner of King’s College London published an analysis of habits in health-related behaviour that drew on no fewer than eight literature reviews and 136 empirical studies. Hacking through that habits undergrowth: no mean feat.

‘Effective People’

On Radio 4 the other day writers including novelist Zadie Smith talked about how “the canon” of go-to reads is in a constant state of flux. (Much like the rest of us, I guess.)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it’s fair to say, is a must-read in the world of habits.

I started it a while back, the tell-tale pencil traces show. “How goes the underlining?” asked one of my nephews (inheritor of the facetious gene?) when he saw me reading.

This week I opened a few pages at random. What I found has encouraged me to do this book justice before long. For instance:

If I make deposits into an Emotional Bank Account with you through courtesy, kindness, honesty, and keeping my commitments to you, I build up a reserve.

So far so interesting, page 188. I’ve not read the before or after of those pages, but how not to want to delve back into that.

Or how about:

If you want to interact effectively with me, to influence me – your spouse, your child, your neighbour, your boss, your coworker, your friend – you first need to understand me.

With so many factors and events beyond our control, perhaps it’s no surprise that the word “influence” (page 238) made me prick up my ears too. That will be the focus of another blog in the fullness of time.

Habits by numbers

Take a timed 10 minutes to get more done of what you want on any given day? Reading, for instance (that blog featuring Rumpole, he of the cheap plonk and brusque mannerisms, above). For the past few months I’ve dedicated a timed 10 minutes to planning my day before I do much of anything else.

You’re never, ever demotivated or experience those moments, days even,
when making progess is like wading through treacle?

In times of motivational slump, the number 3 helps me to inch my way to the doing zone. Emptying the dishwasher three items at a time isn’t much, but 5 x 3 = you get the point.

And just as with all those posts about the power of making our beds every morning, it’s those small actions that can help reset our energy levels in those despondent moments or longer periods of slump.

(As Graham Norton and co-presenter Maria McErlane say on Saturday mornings on Radio  2 (never heard “Grill Graham“?) “if you need to, do seek professional help”.)


Meander I predicted and meander it has been. Thanks for joining us.

Whatever habit you’re working on – the smaller change the better, those gurus no doubt tell us, good luck. As this non-guru reminds himself: keep on doing it until if feels odd not to. Until you miss it, as you would an old friend.

(Images: 1920-Free-Photos, LubosHouska, 1280-stux, 7000920 & TanteTati on Pixabay; also ©Brian McGee: daffodils, beach)

*What are your “winning habits”? What and who help you to develop a new habit?
Please add a comment. I’ll be sure to reply.*

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